Why a touch screen desktop is a bad idea

Discussion in 'Community Discussion' started by mithrilfox, May 19, 2008.

  1. mithrilfox macrumors regular


    Nov 6, 2007
    Many people have been talking lately about the possibility of a touch screen iMac or other such things. The craze is obviously fueled by the very popular and very well-designed iPhone. The touch screen works great on the iPhone, right, so wouldn't it be great on our iMacs, too?

    Not ... at ... all.

    The problem here lies in the radically different way that these two devices are used. Despite videos circulating supposedly showing people using touch screen iMacs, the honest truth is, it's a bad idea from the start. Although the future could reveal a very niched and particular usage for some technology like this on our desktops, it will NOT replace the keyboard/mouse by any means.

    Why? There's a lot of reasons, so forgive me, and let me get started :D

    #1 Touch screen keyboards are inferior to real keyboards.

    Sure, it looks cool, but do you want to have to curve your hands upwards to type? If you do, you're a glutton for carpel tunnel syndrome, or repetitive stress injuries at the very least. Besides, you get zero tactile feedback, so people who type without looking (like me) have no idea if they've totally screwed it up or not. Additionally, typing on a desktop screen would mean constant switching of the screen's position to get either a decent viewing angle, or a decent typing angle. Bad!

    #2 Touch screen as a replacement for a mouse is a huge step backwards

    Mice are wonderful. The computer mouse is pure genius, and it allows a lot of things to happen that were never previously feasible. One of those things is very fast, very accurate input. With a mouse, you can move windows, click on icons, browse websites, play FPS games, and edit documents with large amounts of text. Try editing on Word with your finger... you'll have to use your nail (if you have one) to get the cursor in-between two characters. It's just a horrible replacement for a mouse, and we only do it on the iPhone because it's designed as a portable device that can't use a real mouse! It's a plan B kind of device, the kind you use when a mouse isn't feasible.

    #3 It's exhausting!

    Have you ever worked a job where you had to stand in a single spot and use your arms constantly, holding them up at chest level? If you have, you know that you get exhausted; the only consolation is that you are making large movements with your arms, and it keeps them exercised. Now, try sitting at a desk, and put a towel on your computer monitor. Now, make minute movements of the towel with just one finger, and try to tap individual threads of the towels in multiple places. Keep doing this for 5 minutes. Your arms are probably already tired! Now try to do it for 3 hours at work! Your arms will fall off, or they'll strangle you for putting them that!

    #4 It encourages bad posture

    It's nearly impossible to keep good posture while doing that, just because it's so exhausting. Inevitably, you're going to start slouching and getting lazy. Even though many of us already do it, we'll do it more, because we'll get tired of our position faster. Not healthy...

    #5 You still have to keep your keyboard and mouse around

    The touch screen can't replace either input device. In the iPhone, it works as a viable substitute for the medium. For a desktop, you'll definitely keep your mouse and keyboard. Therefore, after you get bored of showing your friends your geeky new toy, you'll start using the touch feature less and less, and notice you've gone right back to using the keyboard/mouse combo. Why? Cause it's infinitely more efficient, more comfortable, less tiring, and more accurate. A keyboard/mouse input interface wins hands-down over a touch screen interface any day (for daily home and office use). Sure, it's great for kiosks, but how long do you stand at a kiosk? Just long enough to get something done, and move on. Check your tickets at the airport, place an order, get directions, etc.

    #6 You'll pay more for a feature you virtually never use

    Who likes to pay for stuff they don't use? I didn't see any hands go up, although we've all done it, went and bought something we never end up using. Touch screens seem cool, but it's one of those things that people think the future will bring because it looks futuristic. Well, it's here, it's possible, and we still aren't doing it for home/work computing. Why? It's just not an ideal, or even a good solution to home/work computer usage interfaces. Why pay for what you really don't need, and will rarely use?

    Sorry for the soapbox, but I wanted to encourage people to stop getting excited over something that's not gonna happen, and even if it did, that's not gonna be good. Let's hope Apple isn't dumb enough to try to make a touch screen iMac, because it'll be another Nintendo VirtualBoy (yeah, remember that? totally bombed). Nintendo thought virtual reality was the future, now where did it go? It's "virtually" non-existant -- pun intended.
  2. Gray-Wolf macrumors 68030


    Apr 19, 2008
    Pandora, Home Tree
    They could have there uses. But I would want to see some software similar to the fiction of star trek, where you configure the screen for the program. Typing though, would, pardon the pun, be out the Window.
  3. mithrilfox thread starter macrumors regular


    Nov 6, 2007
    Hi Finalday,

    The stuff in Star Trek could work well for a ship's control panel, but for your home computer, configuring the screen for the app means that screen real estate is consumed for the input mechanism (right now, screens only show some of the input interface). Imagine pasting a keyboard on top of your screen, and then add several large buttons here and there, and presto, you have virtually no space left.

    There could be a few niche uses, but certainly worthless for the majority of serious uses: digital video editing, audio editing, word processing, web development, web surfing, e-mailing, etc.
  4. nuckinfutz macrumors 603


    Jul 3, 2002
    Middle Earth

    A Touch Screen that isn't horizontal (a la MS Surface) is an ergononic nightmare.

    I'm amazed at how many people have bought into the idea that somehow touchscreen is suitable for standard desktop use. Yeah maybe if you're on a glorified kiosk.

    The Holy Grail is and will continue to be voice activation. The typical human can easily speak 10-20 thousand words a day without physically tiring. Computer command and control and voice recognition speech-to-text is an area where Apple seems to be falling behind.
  5. mithrilfox thread starter macrumors regular


    Nov 6, 2007
    Voice controlled environments are highly overrated, in my opinion.

    In fact, I think it's full of a lot of problems. The best of the best voice recognition still makes a lot of mistakes, and it's still difficult to get particular commands. What kind of commands do you have to resize an internet window so that it includes everything but that annoying blinking bar on the left side? The mouse/keyboard are still a more efficient combo.

    And, noisy environments, incidental language, sickness, and other factors can seriously affect the usefulness. Imagine if the environment is very noisy, or if you're playing music that gets caught by the system, it'll screw up. Equally with incidental language, such as when you just start talking to your wife or friend without realizing you're still inputting data, or you say things like "huh" or "oops" and it tries to interpret it. What about a sore throat that changes your voice pattern, or makes you hack and cough a lot? Even breathing out heavily can snag the system into using processor power to interpret the data.

    We all know what happened at the showing of Windows Vista's craptacular voice recognition performance. What was it again? An attempt to write a letter never got beyond "Dear mom" which somehow became "Dear aunt" or something, and then his attempts to back up and start over ended up writing something that sounded sadistic and twisted (it involved the word "killing").

    Also, for video editors, using a jog wheel (or even mouse) is infinitely better than voice commands. "Forward 6 seconds, back 2 seconds, back 1 second, forward 1 second, back .5 seconds, forward .2 seconds..." All of that would be a couple flicks on the jog wheel.

    Also, my voice gets tired easily. After seeing a speech therapist, she determined that I have a weak vocal chords with low quality production, and that as a general rule of thumb, talking a lot for a long periods of time is bad for me.

    I guess I just still love my keyboard and mouse... and my Griffin PowerMate ;)

    Besides, I don't want to keep wiping the fingerprints off of my screen! :p
  6. nuckinfutz macrumors 603


    Jul 3, 2002
    Middle Earth
    The latest Dragon NaturallySpeaking will give 80% accuracy out of the box with two stipulations.

    1. Good noise cancelling microphone.
    2. Speaker who's at least remotely articulate

    Seasoned vets that can get 95% accuracy which I've verified through Nuance webinars where the instructor dictates in realtime and you see the DNS translating. Keep in mind that DNS never misspells words unless you purposely add a misspelled word to the DB. Thus when comparing DNS to a human you have to account for how many errors did the human make in typos and misspellings.

    nothing is easier for creating and launcing Macros. I could simply say "Launch [application name] and that app launches. I can say "launch documents" and blank document with my company letterhead is launched. I can use VBA scripting to add a bunch of stuff you just can't do easily. We had Doctors going from messy chickenscratch for their notes to being able to dictate right into their records app.

    I saw blind people that could compute by linking their speech-to-text engines with a screen reader that read back their dictation. I saw quadriplegics surfing the internet.

    If you guys think Touch is some ground breaking paradigm you're being sold wolf tickets. Keyboards already assist in giving millions of people RSI injuries ...improperly implemented touch screen systems will just cause more.

    It sells computers..it's flashy but I challenge anyone to find me a feature with touch that I can't do with voice commonds. But on the flipside voice commands would allow functionality that cannot be duplicated by touch as in the speech2text-screen reading.
  7. SkyBell macrumors 604


    Sep 7, 2006
    Texas, unfortunately.
    IMO, I think we just need to stop trying to find something to replace the keyboard and mouse. (No, this isn't one of my "technology needs to stop" rants...Ok, maybe a little, but I have agood reason) Touch screens are obviously a really impractical idea on a computer, sans a Commodore 64 shaped thing. (Which is also stupid.) Now, voice. Voice is not a good replacement either. Ever tried to go to a library to read a book, and found someone on their notebook, noisily typing down something? That's bad enough, the last thing we need is voice commands. Airports are another good example. There's already plenty of noise there, what with people talking in their cell phones and such...ugh. Desktops are maybe an option. MAYBE. In my school, that's all we have, so it would essentially have the same effect if we were on notebooks.

    Remember, "Silence is Golden".
  8. 0098386 Suspended


    Jan 18, 2005
    Well you'd think nobody wants a Touchscreen desktop... My cousin imports them and there is a huge market. Of course the touchscreen is an additional feature and not the primary way to operate the computer. He even sells iMac style "all in one" touchscreen systems and they're always selling out.

    Stores especially eat these machines up since they're fantastic for EPOS systems.
  9. steviem macrumors 68020


    May 26, 2006
    New York, Baby!
    I think we need to think of Touchscreens in a keyboard replacement term, like imagine a MacBook where the bottom half is a touchscreen a la Nintendo DS.

    For different applications and functions, the input changes, for some applications a keyboard (or mouse) isnt that helpful. I know tactile feedback is one major problem which needs to be addressed before it can be a replacement for the keyboard (not so much mouse/trackpad).

    Think the bottom half becoming a mixer for garageband and logic sequencing, in photoshop/illustrator becoming your canvas...

    Vertical touchscreens can be good, and can work for gesture based commands, but for proper input, the natural way is with hands flat on the table.
  10. Evangelion macrumors 68040

    Jan 10, 2005
    Here is your first mistake. You assume that "touchscreen" is same as "a computer screen that is touch-sensitive". It could just as well be that we have a monitor (that is or isn't touch-sensitive) and in additon to that, we have a slate that is positioned in a similar way as current keyboards are, and that slate acts like a touch-sensitive screen.


    Not really. Mouse-pointer moves in a vertical plane, while you operate the mouse on a horizontal plane.

    What exactly makes you think that touchscreen implies keeping your hands at your chest-level? It's because your initial flawed assumption that "touchscreen = computer-screen that is touch-sensitive". But it doesn't haev to be like that.

    If the touchscreen is placed in similar way as current keyboards are, there's no real difference as far as posture is concerned.

    How about the benefits of touchscreen-keyboard? Well, it can adapt to the application. Instead of having the same keys in every app, each app could customize the keyboard to suit that application. Hell, the user could customize the keyboard as well. And there would be no more need to manufacture different keyboards to different countries, since the hardware stays the same, while the keymap is changed with software.

    They keyboard could also be interactive. Hell, it could even display dashboard-widgets, making the name "dashboard" more apt.
  11. Much Ado macrumors 68000

    Much Ado

    Sep 7, 2006
    Desktops will go the way of the Dodo anyway, at least for the majority of consumers. We're moving 'post-PC' already.

    /Crystal ball
  12. zap2 macrumors 604


    Mar 8, 2005
    Washington D.C
    your last few points are a little weak, but over all I agree.

    Touch Screen Keyboards on a phone is logical, because your looking for small, slim with a big screen. A keyboard takes away from that, and you look at the keyboard and screen at the same time.

    On a desktop you have tons of space to work with, so why both.

    And on a laptop, since you're folding it over anyway, the keyboard takes up little space that would be used anyway.
  13. pol0001 macrumors 6502


    Apr 15, 2008
    Definition of a touch screen: a screen you can touch

    To Evangelion: The idea of a touch screen is that you can tap on the computer screen for commands. You are describing something like a keyboard 2.0 hence it is separate from the computer.

    I administered a POS station with a touch screen that was running Windows XP, for a few months. And while the touch screen was very useful for the POS software, it was almost useless for me. Touch screens have their uses in devices like cell phones or certain software. However, if Microsofts vision of integrating the computer screen into the suface of your desktop comes true, than it's a different story.

  14. Evangelion macrumors 68040

    Jan 10, 2005
    That's a narrow definition. "Screen" is something that can display information. A keyboard-like device can be like that. It could be a screen that acts as a keyboard/mouse and displays information. And even if we just focus on "traditional" touchscreens, it should be noted that computer-screen (like ACD) are also separate from the computer...
  15. mithrilfox thread starter macrumors regular


    Nov 6, 2007
    Evangelion, I totally understand what you're trying to say, and I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to clarify what I mean by "touch screen desktop."

    I see there being a huge difference between a "touch screen desktop computer" and a "desktop computer with a touch screen device attached." I think you see where I'm going with this.

    If the screen of the computer is not a touch screen, then there is a whole new avenue of opportunities, and problems. For example, if the touch screen is on a flat surface separate from the monitor, how can you interact with the items on the monitor? Imagine playing a Nintendo DS with a touch screen that doesn't show the contents of the monitor. Now if the touch screen does show the contents, that makes it an additional screen on top of the already existing monitor/LCD screen. Wow, that's getting very expensive for an interface that has very limited usage.

    Sure, works great on the iPhone and the Nintendo DS, but these are both portable devices designed for portable use (play it lying down, in the car, on the train, or even on the john). A desktop is a device that meant to take full advantage of the stationary nature of the device, as well as the additional space gained from a stationary setup. With that space, you can attach a full-sized keyboard that has awesome tactile response, as well as a pointing device that is kind to your hand and wrist (as kind as a pointing device can be).

    Now, if the device simply sits on the desk flat, and there is no monitor to look straight at, there we go again with the bad posture. Sure, a lot of people look down at their desk and write on papers and whatnot, but it isn't ideal, and especially if there's a simple alternative. And what about RSI? A touch screen would probably be worse in many regards, because of the level of accuracy you have to try to pull off with your fine motor movements (fingers, wrists).

    And still, we haven't found many practical uses for it. Sure, you CAN play the Nintendo DS Zelda with the stylus alone, but I just end up wishing I could play with the gosh darn buttons! Animal Crossing, another game that can be entirely stylus driven, gives the option to play with the controls, and most people I now mainly use the regular controls.

    If you put the touch screen on the desk in a flat orientation, what's the difference between that and a writing tablet? It's virtually the same thing.

    Too expensive with too little practical use. Who knows, maybe some radical changes in technology and interface approaches will bring future combinations of touch screen/voice input technologies, but if it's coming, it's a long way off, and requires a lot of core changes to how we work on our computers.
  16. Gelfin macrumors 68020


    Sep 18, 2001
    Denver, CO
    I'm a little confused. You seem to be complaining about the idea of a desktop Mac that has a touch screen and has no external keyboard or mouse support at all. Has anyone suggested Apple would make such a device?

    For that matter, the worst they could do is not to include a keyboard and mouse in the box. This hypothetical desktop machine, it will still have Bluetooth and/or USB, right? Are you expecting Apple to maliciously disable driver support for keyboards and mice in OS X on this machine so as to force you to interact with the computer using the touchscreen?

    I mean, I suppose we agree that would be a stupid thing for them to do. I'm just not seeing why we'd expect them to try turning Macs into giant iPhones.
  17. rpaloalto macrumors 6502a


    Sep 19, 2005
    Palo Alto CA.
  18. Evangelion macrumors 68040

    Jan 10, 2005
    How do you interact with them at this moment?

    The point is that there would be a monitor, just like we have today. But in place of a keyboard, we would have a touch-enabled slate. Your posutre would be identical to your current keyboard+screen-setup.

    The device I described would be adaptable and interactive. It could be your keyboard. In video-editing app the controls on the device would adapt to the app. Instead of showing a keyboard, it would show bunch of controls that are relevant for video-editing. And so forth.
  19. steviem macrumors 68020


    May 26, 2006
    New York, Baby!
    Evangelion, I think you are seeing the same device as me.

    The main issue is the way text is input on computers, although iPhone has helped with text entry on touchscreens (anyone try typing on a WM6 virtual keyboard? its the most disgusting fingernail tapping experience ever!), we really do need tactile feed back to help with touchtyping. I don't touchtype myself the way my mum does where she can type 45wpm at least, but don't always look at my keyboard.

    If apple added in a version of its spelling correction to OSX on the desktop,
    that would be a step forward.

    Musical typing could be made awesome and hand independent. Imagine sliding your left hand to the right to move to the lower notes and playing low chords while playing a melody with your right hand. All on a desktop or laptop computer without an extra keyboard. Of course, professional musicians won't really need this as they will have the budget for a proper setup. But for amateurs using Garageband, it would be perfect I think.
  20. Evangelion macrumors 68040

    Jan 10, 2005
    Not necessarily. Besides, you can have a haptic touchscreen.
  21. t0mat0 macrumors 603


    Aug 29, 2006
    It's called a multi-touch trackpad.

    [/QUOTE]Too expensive with too little practical use.[/QUOTE]
    No. You haven't many uses for it ;)
    Not necessarily a) expensive or b) limited in use.

    I think the problem is partly the context of the thread title - it's specifically about an touch screen iMac.

    This is just 1 possibility, and well, not the one with the most potential.
    - It doesn't have to be metal or plastic - see the Dance dance mats.
    - It doesn't have to be expensive - see the Lux multitouch box made of... A cardboard box, some perspex a webcam and some ducktape.
    - It has plenty of potential uses. I don't think fully grasping what the iPhone OS X can teach the current OS X. Add touch back to OS X Mac and then the benefit will be huge in some areas.

    I'm not talking about replacing, i'm talking about an accompanying, modifying, complementing UI.
    The 2 pics are mockups from months back (cheers again to Kontheur). They don't have to be that size - they could be used as mouse mats, or have in front of keyboard as shown.

    Bear in mind that Apple is likely to bring in remote control options - the iPhone slaving the Mac, or the other way round; the iPhone being a remote control/multi touch UI via bluetooth etc. Just the start of it.

    Attached Files:

  22. mithrilfox thread starter macrumors regular


    Nov 6, 2007
    Exactly, that's what I am saying: a touch screen desktop (iMac) is a bad idea. That's what this thread is about.

    I think many people are inaccurately reading my thread and extrapolating it to mean "touch screen devices are all bad." Please read the thread as it is.

    Hi Gelfin! And, to the contrary, I am not complaining at all.

    And, also, I didn't say "no external keyboard or mouse support at all." I only stated that it cannot replace them, and therefore if most behaviors are still best done with a keyboard and mouse, what would be the value of the touch screen display?

    I'm saying first and foremost, above all else, and primarily as the purpose of this thread, that a desktop with a touch screen is a bad idea. I think many pro-touch screen advocates agree with that statement as-stated. When most people speak of a "touch screen," they are not speaking of a device that merely receives input and then displays that on a separate monitor, they speak of a singular unit that receives the input, and shows the results of such input on the same surface.

    The Nintendo DS is interesting because, depending on how the software works, it can receive input on one screen and display it on a separate monitor. However, most games receive the input and display it (at least partially) on the same surface that receives the input.

    There are some possibilities for touch devices, but touch screens themselves have some extremely obvious limitations. Their use in home desktop computing is, if there is any use at all, probably going to be niched. Time may prove me wrong, but regardless, the point of the thread, and the main point of the first post still stands: an iMac-like touch screen desktop is a bad idea.
  23. jb60606 macrumors 6502a

    Jan 27, 2008
    Microsoft already beat them too it. It's a little early in its development stage, but the "DigiDesk" has a lot of potential. You can scan documents by simply laying them on the surface, resize and drag using your finger tips, and general keyboard use is all but replaced by voice recognition.

    I'm not saying their won't be roadblocks, but this is just the beginning after all.


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